“The balance of our world frequently is seen as a question of power. If I have more power and more knowledge, more capacity, then I can do more. And when we have power, we can very quickly push people down. I’m the one that knows and you don’t know, and I’m strong and I’m powerful, I have the knowledge. This is the history of humanity. And it is in the whole educational system, that we must educate people to become capable and to take their place in society. That has value, obviously. But it’s not quite the same thing as to educate people to relate, to listen, to help people to become themselves. The equilibrium that people with disabilities bring is precisely this equilibrium of the heart.”
- Jean Vanier, in conversation with Krista Tippet, (On Being)
“We’re all waiting to be met.”
- James Finley
The passing of Jean Vanier this week, made me relive some moments where I was truly struck at the heart by love. I’m talking, the big love that pulls at us and drops hints for how our own little story might connect with the Big Story.
I’ve been thinking about how disarming his teaching was. The strikingly gentle delivery, as well as the content, just got right down to the business of loving. I wonder if the combination of transforming out of his naval background and the friendship he experienced with his friends Raphael Simi and Phillipe Seux was the alchemy for such precision into the heart of God.
Reading Jean Vanier’s Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John, and Befriending the Stranger, were key in the early development of realizing that although my religion preached love, it was often not incredibly loving.
I remember weeping at the image Vanier described, of Jesus keeping himself lower than the woman at the well. And I remember beginning to understand the difference between “alms giving” and relationship. The difference between power over… and mutual connection.
It was about the same time (early 2000’s), where I began to study the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s most widely known book, I Thou.
Jean Vanier and Martin Buber’s writing, (and in particular, Jean Vanier’s very life), commenced my first conscious inklings as an adult, of the intrinsic subjectivity of the created world, and the love that incarnates it.
Lately, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by how mean and patronizing and dystopian the social media world can be. It can be such a beautiful, connecting tool, but I often wonder if the very longing to be met, and to feel meaningful, that Jean Vanier intuited all of us long for, is not being experienced online. But instead, so many are being met with provocation, neurotic insistence, dramatic offended-ness, dramatic defended-ness, hopelessness, and sometimes straight up cruelty.
So it’s a simple question this week. How can we live one moment at a time in the coming few days, practicing vigilance, for where we might be met, and where we might meet others?
Sometimes, it is real, and true, that another person, an abusive person, isn’t safe for you to "meet". And that’s ok. But you can still sense that part in yourself, that wants to be met, and trust that that is really, how everyone feels, somewhere in there.
There isn’t one time when my children have hidden, that they didn’t want me to seek, that they didn’t want me to find. There isn't one time they didn't want my full attention, when they told me a story. It is tender and vulnerable, and what Jean Vanier did for us, is changed how we understood those words. If understood as “weak” or “less”, those words are demeaning. If understood in the way Jean Vanier understood them, they mean: our yearning for wholeness shining through.
We’re all like that deep down. We’re all waiting to be met.
There was a point in the last 3 weeks, where I really began to realize that social media has so much power for good, but also has the potential to be simply the ultimate way for us to work out our own neurosis. So, seeing this in myself, (that I often share things in a reactive state), I committed to not sharing a post on instagram or facebook (my main social media spaces), without first sitting in silence, in the hope that the energy of that sharing will not contribute to a spiral of violence or adolescent drama, but help raise awareness, to hold, and to give back to the great Mystery, the suffering of the world.
In the midst of this Eastertide vigil, has been the reality of Rachel Held Evans' medically induced coma and wondering as so many of us were, what the outcome of her medical situation would be. Sadly, very, very sadly, she died Saturday, May 4th, 2019, at the age of 37, leaving behind her young family.
I tucked my children in tonight, just gutted.
As the rest of us grieve the loss of this brilliant, Christian prophet, may those closest to her be protected from any imposed ownership. And... in particular, protected from any judgemental or "against" energy.
I shared my social media post out of silence today, about Rachel. A wave of grief and gratitude for her life is flooding my newsfeed, and what I have noticed most, is how many people named her as the author who used her privileged position to step aside and offer others a platform.
For me, what I've really appreciated about her, is how she found the words to guide so many sincerely hurting people, through the painful, unmooring process of spiritual metamorphosis. So much shame can accompany this process. It can be terrifying to admit we have been wounded by the religious culture of our upbringing.
It is one thing to preach. It is another thing to live what you preach. There was something in her giftedness for seeing the gem at the heart of her tradition, that challenged her to live those values.
So, this Sunday Song is to honour one of the great theologians of the ancient/renewing Christianity, Rachel Held Evans. May many of her words be on our lips in the years to come.
One phrase of hers that I will forever carry with me, is: "Jesus is how God feels toward us."
The Christianity she discovered through her own seeker's journey, is the kind that will live in the hearts of people, whether there is one church building left standing. It is the kind that was whispered in the mines of Roman occupied Britain in 1st century AD: that the Christ mystery is the great equalizer of slaves and Caesars. Raising what has been made low, and making low what has been elevated. The Christianity that in its marrow, knows "inclusive" and "affirming" doesn't even go far enough... because many in the LGBTQ2 community have a deeply moving, precious teaching voice that needs to be heard in the church. The Christianity that recognizes its own horrific stain(s) on history, and particularly acknowledges that people of color have very integral, important things to say, yes, to the white community, and that it is necessary for those voices to be heard. The Christianity that sees how the innate fire in the belly for teaching and preaching can be born in any kind of person... women included... and that Sophia may be the very fire of that fire.
I have chanted Let This Mind Be in You in front of many audiences. Many have received it very warmly. But I've been amazed at how many people have told me they think it is irreverent.
The irony is that the chant merely quotes Philippians 2:5, which is the beginning of one of the great Christological hymns, harkening to the self-emptying nature of the incarnate Christ.
Well done, good and faithful servant. Rachel Held Evans, in many, very tangible ways, you lived this verse:
Let this mind be in you
Which was also in Christ Jesus
I remember attending a church as a 19-year-old, where I sang on one of the worship teams. I didn’t fit in very well, (a bit of a hippie, really). It called itself a “seeker church” as many churches do, but even then, I found something interesting about the description. Namely, that the folks on the teams and many of the core attendees, saw themselves less as seekers, and more as space holders for a place in which seekers might find.
For my part, maybe why I didn’t fit in very well, is because deep down, I was a seeker, through and through.
Prior to that church experience, I co-formed a church with some friends, called The Church of the Wayward Brethren. The liturgy consisted of passing a bottle around on the beach of our local lake, and read the Bible. We thought we were pretty subversive.
Looking back, what unfolds in my memory is a sequence of trial and error attempts at going deeper without ever looking like I didn’t have the answer.
Then, eventually, came the “lucky dark”. And everything changed. I began to give myself permission to openly seek for Divine revelation. Which led me to the Christian mystics, which led me to practices within that lineage, like lectio divina, centering prayer, chanting the Psalms, walking with awareness of my foot arches, connecting with the earth.
Some of my most beloved teachers are so effective, because they have made it their life’s work to seek. And they aren’t seeking to be rebellious and irresolute for the sake of it. What they are doing is holding vigil for where resonance and the thrumming of the deep, is quivering, in no matter how unlikely a place.
For what might be seen, if we have eyes to see
Tasted, if we have tongues to taste.
Heard, if we have ears to hear.
Felt, if we are embodied enough for our arm hairs to bristle.
When Noel Keating approached me about recording a children's meditation album with him, he sent me his book, Meditation With Children. When I read the book, I was initially and utterly taken in by two things. First, that the many children introduced to centering prayer meditation authentically discover an interiority to themselves that is very mysterious and rather remarkable. Second, that Noel Keating is the type of grown-up who seeks… for those places or people who might reveal deeper revelations, that help us long for the great Mystery to come very near to us.
In Noel’s book, he includes the quote by Madeline Simon, that children are “born contemplatives”.
Her observation not only really struck me as something so very true, but made me see my children and other children I know, and my own inner-child, as little teachers, even as I must be the grown-up, and guide and care for them.
Yesterday, the Meditation With Children album launched worldwide on my website, so I’ve been pondering what is so resonant about the project, for me. I think it is that the album was made with a seeker’s vigilance, inspired by a book that was written by someone with a seeker’s heart, who sensed in the children that they too have seeker's hearts. And that although the album is a good resource for children, it also has something to teach grown-ups who are open to learning and trusting that revelations emerge out of unexpected places. And that meditation was the catalyst, and is for everyone.
The song for this Sunday, is Hope Beyond all Hope, from the new album, with new lyrics I wrote for the children.
I'm looking at the evening sky
Stars twinkle secrets through the night
This whole universe, (and you, and I)
Were born to breathe the breath of God
I've been seeing quite a number of folks speaking up about how it seems that the more actually loving we make God, the more heretical we sound.
It's really true.
As most of you know, my song The Heart of God did not arrive easily.
I wrote and wrote about the darkness and struggled to write about hope and resurrection for years. Partly because I was working out God's presence in this suffering world.
Sometimes I think the very reason there is so much suffering is because we're all afraid of a Deity who would order eternal suffering.
Our whole life is made up of building walls because we can't trust that intimacy could ever be safe. I just knew there was a pearl hidden inside Christianity, waiting to be mined and held to the light. It's why I could never just leave,
Easter Sunday has transformed into a very safe, beautiful place to reside. With almost none of the triumphant fireworks that once blazed across my guilt-ridden/washed-but-still-fear-ridden soul.
It is a day of infinite intimacy. An intertwined consummation. A feast that tastes flavours with aliveness and vigour.
As I write this, I have just found out about the Easter morning bombings of the churches in Sri Lanka... I am so sad from all the violence. Sitting in the great Silence, before I pray for the right words to share. May all the wise leaders of this world tap root into the Ancient Peace that showed itself in Jesus, as they begin to respond.
"Wisdom!", cries the Dawn Deacon, but we do not attend. (Merton)
"He was just sitting there- surrounded by the darkest, deepest, most alienated, most constricted states of pained consciousness; sitting, if we can imagine it, among all those mirroring faces of the collective false self that we encountered earlier in the crucifixion narrative: the anguish of Judas, the indecision of Pilate, the cowardice of Peter, the sanctimony of the Pharisees; sitting there in the midst of all this darkness, not judging, not fixing, just letting it be in love. And in so doing, he was allowing love to go deeper, pressing all the way to the innermost ground out of which the opposites arise, and holding that to the light."
- Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus
"Unless a grain of what falls into the earth, and dies. It remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
- Jesus of Nazareth, (and an initiation ritual for the Asia Minor Mystery religions)
Holy Saturday has been a strange, ominous day for most of my life. That blank hour after the funeral service and luncheon has ended and the last plate that held sandwiches just an hour ago, is put back in the cupboard. There is an emptiness and a strange relief, and perhaps a dread that all at once, we realize life will never be the same, but it will keep going anyway.
As a child, this blankness, was sort of how I used to see Holy Saturday. And maybe feeling a sort of contrived, sickly guilt and shame... attempting to sustain a longer note of conjured compunction that God needed Jesus to die for me.
But for me, Holy Saturday has recently changed into one of the most powerful days of the liturgical year.
Some of the great works that have awakened Holy Saturday in my imagination, is Cynthia Bourgeault's work on the Harrowing of Hell, in her books The Wisdom Jesus and The Meaning of Mary Magdalene. What she has called "The Vigil of the Heart of the Earth" – when Jesus descended into the heart of the earth, which later became translated as 'hell'. Her above quote is from the Wisdom Jesus, and she expands this in The Meaning of Mary Magdalene in a most remarkable way, implying that Mary accompanied him in the imaginal realm.
For some reason, whenever I read Cynthia's most cosmic, metaphysical writings, I feel much closer, even unified, with the earth, much more embodied, and more present here on this planet, ready to participate in the grounded dance of growing food and embracing my beloveds with vigor and joy. I don't know if that is her intention, but the teaching just does that for me.
I wrote this song Fear Not, Adamah, of the Earth for Advent... but if you look at it closely, it is also a direct commentary on Holy Saturday. A day which has begun to smell pungent and life-filled for me... like Mother Earth herself.
John Dominica Crossan's beautiful Easter videos have been helping to inform the way I "do Easter" this year. The new book he wrote with his wife Sarah, on the Eastern interpretation of the resurrection is a GAME CHANGER. In the Eastern tradition's iconic depictions of the Harrowing of Hell, you see Jesus holding both the hand of Eve and Adam. It is a collective (over individual) resurrection of past, present and future... because it happens in the timeless realm. To marry these images with Cynthia's gritty words of Jesus sitting as total and pure love, deepening love far beyond judgement and solutions, certainly brings some vitality back into Holy Saturday.
In this song, I used the name Adamah simply because I see us all as "of the earth" which is what the name Adam means. And the word "human", comes from the word "humus". In that light, the term "human being" really looks more like "incarnate soil". And now that we know a healthy gut microbiome looks almost identical to a microscopic photo of of healthy humus, it brings so much to life for me, on this day, when Jesus descended to hold vigil in the heart of the earth.
Born of flesh in that stable is a sign
And he will spread his arms to embody all of life
And sink down, down in the soil
And died, died like a seed
To show love's been in every vein
That ever flowed....
Rivers are veins. Roots are veins. We are a part of this intricate network of love here on this planet.
Really, Holy Saturday should be another "Earth Day" for all Christians. A time to commit and reorient ourselves to the health of top soil (reversing desertification), to the health of the waters, the air and all of life. To reconsider our stance on the urgency of an economy of destruction, over the urgency of Mother Earth's very survival and placing value in the arts and beauty. It is a day to honour the earth-based wisdom of our indigenous ancestors, who held a very special intuition about "the heart of the earth". It is a time to sit with Jesus, in that heart, beyond the bonds of our egos, dying as seeds, to bear much fruit.
I recently re-recorded the vocals for this song, to change out a couple of lyrics and sing with intentions for garden growing and participating in stepping more consciously into the great circle of life.
Listen to that particular recording right here:
Sustained in All Things may have been the hardest song I've ever recorded. But here's the thing. The reality of this recording is that I was in my 8th month of my 2nd pregnancy, feeling incredibly uncomfortable, and unable to sleep at night for various reasons. And my engineer was also dying of cancer at the time of this recording. A beautiful soul, with such a deep love for music.
James Finley, whose words are the lyrics to this chant, did not come to these words lightly. Suffering trauma as a child, he realized that somehow that trauma happened. And at first glance, to suggest there is benevolence at the heart of this world, amidst such abuse and injustice, is enough cause for us to die of cynicism.
This week, as Notre Dame cathedral burned, I wrestled with my feelings on the matter. At first, I thought, of course there will be rich people coming to the aid of this historic landmark. And then, I thought, how do I feel about that? For instance... I totally loved Gretta Thunberg's response and in many ways agree with her. I just wish we could cut the ugliness in the world first, and realize there's room for music, art, literature and beautiful buildings.
I have been pondering in my heart the life of Jesus over this season of Lent. In particular, looking through the lens of John Dominic Crossan's work, on Jesus' move to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He moved at the same point when in 20 CE, Herod Antipas built his city Tiberias, and renamed the Sea of Galilee, "Lake Tiberias". In this video, John Dominic Crossan shows the peasant fishing villages along the shores of the lake as being the home towns of most of Jesus disciples, including Mary Magdalene. He suggests that part of Jesus' move there was a food sovereignty movement over and against the commercial fishing power of the new city of Tiberias. This commercial trading power was destroying the peasant's way of life. Now, think of the story of the fishes and the bread and feeding all the people in an act of abundance. Think of the idea of being "fishers of people", in other words, to tell them of their inherent, abundant worth.
Here is where this chant Sustained in All Things gets even trickier. On the one hand, I want to be VERY clear, that we should not go seeking trauma in order to be spiritual. We cannot construct our own descent (but we can sure try). However, amidst the trials that life brings us, sometimes because we choose to stand non-violently in the way of injustice, in that context, what is it to realize that there is an endless source of love at the very root of who we are?
I am still torn about the wealthy coming to the aid of Notre Dame so very quickly. But I can't be either/or about it. I know in many ways, it represents collusion with Empire. But in many other ways, it is an example of something beautiful. When one annual military budget could end the fossil fuel age, empower all people the world over to feed themselves sustainably, and restore all the sacred architecture that has been damaged by fire or violence across the world, it is hard to not step into a deeper dream of abundance and out of this nightmare of scarcity. The nightmare of scarcity is why the sex slavery trade, the arms trade, and anti-aging are what "1st world" people spend most money on. The nightmare of scarcity is why arts funding, good, true, beautiful design, and libraries are always cut first... judged for being extraneous.
The dream of abundance is the dream that Jesus stepped into on this Good Friday. And sharing this dream of abundance is why he was executed. Trusting that what is true, is that there is more life than there is destruction. That love is more powerful than death ever will be. And that death, when placed into the cycle of life and renewal, can be remarkably abundant and generative.
So, it's hard teaching. But something I'll be pondering today.
"God protects us from nothing, but unexplainably sustains us in all things."
- James Finley, trauma survivor, depth psychologist, contemplative teacher, friend
Tonight, as I was tucking my children into their beds, I told them that tomorrow is Palm Sunday. My 5-year- old asked me if Palm Sunday was related to Palm Desert, because he was at the Palm Desert zoo once, and traces the roads to Palm Desert, on his atlas, with his finger.
I told them that Palm Sunday and Palm Desert both had Palm tree branches (and decided not to say anything about golf, or washed up Hollywood actors).
Then I told them that Palm Sunday was about the story when Jesus rides the donkey along the road as people laid Palm branches down on the road and sang “hosannah in the highest!”
But then I said, Jesus chose a little donkey to ride, so that all the people who weren’t as big or strong could see that Jesus knows everyone is important, no matter how big they are.
Our kids are really into the story of King Arthur, and how he pulled the sword from the stone when he was a little boy, even when all the big muscle men couldn’t do it. So my 5-year-old said, “Jesus riding the donkey and not a big, big horse is sort of like when Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, and a miracle happened right there in London, that a little boy nobody saw, and not the big guys, was the king.”
Then he said, “Sometimes it might be, like, a person who gets to drive a wheelchair who’s king or queen. Or like someone who’s really, really, really old. Or like a little girl could pull the sword from the stone, too. Not just all the big grown up ladies with long hair.”
Um… move over Alana. I’ll just let my son write the reflection this week.
In the spirit of those innocent words, I am going to share another song from the Meditation With Children album. This one is called Metanoia. Which is often translated as “repent”. But really, it means to “move into the larger mind”.
The line “move beyond what you first see” was inspired by the definition of the word "respect". Re-spect. To look twice. Which feels fitting for my son’s expanding awareness of seeing worth, everywhere.
As Richard Rohr so simply puts it: “how we see is what we see”. If we’re looking through eyes controlled by a mind that is disconnected from our heart, we begin to see only certain types of humans and other-than-humans, as having value. And we certainly fail to innovate in the direction of abundance and life.
A blessed Palm Sunday to you. With a special thanks to children’s imaginations, everywhere.
May we see abundantly.
There is a scene in the film Wild, based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, where the protagonist finally reaches the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail after a very confusing time of loss and addiction. She takes some steps on the path, and very soon after those steps, she looks behind her, and then forward, realizing how far she’s come to get to this point, but still how far she has to go.
I too took a pilgrimage once. After devastating blow, after devastating blow, I found myself in the refuge of a Benedictine monastery, next to a monastic library, finally reading all the books I had forbidden myself to read before that time. I told myself, ‘because they weren’t theologically astute enough’, but really it was because I was afraid of what they might open up for me. That the dam built on the flood of my own true soul would burst, and there would be no telling what would be left of the “me” guarding that soul.
On the grounds of that monastery is a very old tree by the river. And although I was surrounded by good grandmother energy with the all the sisters, I was trying to be a “good steward of my pain”, as Fred Buechner wrote, I think in his book, Telling Secrets. So after I was finished working on the grounds, I would climb that old grandmother tree, and let her hold me as I wept. She was very tender and had the natural and wise capacity to absorb my suffering and hand it back out to the Infinite. It was like her roots were drinking from the river, to absorb my austerity, and let it flush away into the great Wholeness that could bear it.
While at the monastery, as I struggled to make sense of all that was happening, I also began to make plans to take a journey by myself, from Newfoundland to New Orleans, looking for music that came more from life than from the industry of music, along the way.
Partly this pilgrimage was a way to reconstruct some semblance of an identity. But it was also a way to move the story forward. It was also a way to feel at “home”, because I had spent many years on the road by that point, that it was sometimes more home than home was in those years.
In some ways, looking back, it really was my own internal ancestral wisdom telling me it was time to become a grown up. But there was no one around that could name what I needed. A ritual. An initiatory ceremony, with elders that could sit with me in that liminal space with no answers. And in other ways, it was the distance I needed to give myself permission to name my own trauma and not to feel like I was letting people down no matter how guilty some people made me feel.
I had a very small amount of money, got in my 1996 Passat Wagon with a questionable transmission, and left Winnipeg one day, with really no farewell, and drove 4,222kms to reach my beginning destination at Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland. From there, I slowly continued south, for the next 6 months, all the way to Louisiana. Along the way I was the minstrel on a tall ship for two weeks, I worked on a farm, helped to scrape and paint a farmhouse, and played music with many people from all walks of life. I was in the heart of the Mississippi Delta at juke joints in the middle of the night. I slept in my car most of the time, or on beaches, or off the beaten path in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Identifying wholeheartedly with the Orphan archetype, so I could eventually come to parent her, like we all must do.
Inside, I could feel almost nothing. Looking back, I think it is because I was tired of feeling too much. Slowly but surely, I was healing, although at the time, it looked like confusion on steroids. I wonder sometimes how many of us would heal more deeply if we were given the gift of it all falling apart. To sit in the belly of the whale with all but a few left you might call ‘friend’. To give yourself the freedom to make mistakes, and fumble your way through.
This reflection is not going to culminate with an answer. It is not going to wrap up neatly. The song for today is about those times in life when there are no answers, but we find our footing one day at a time, in the process of healing and growing and letting go.
I’ll end with the spoken word in the song from James Finley:
There comes a time in this process, where a person comes to realize that it was just as bad, or maybe worse than they thought it would be, to go through all this. But they also know that they’ve come to a point where there’s no turning back. They also know that they can’t force their way to closure on their own terms. And therefore, I’m betwixt and between two worlds. I’m so grateful I’m no longer as confused and thoroughly lost in the suffering as I used to be, but oh how I wish, that glimmer of freedom that I see could be realized. It’s a time where I need to be patient and prudently courageous, and let myself transform one day at a time. This is where I really learn to trust that I’m on a path, not of my own making, and I’m being transformed in this.
Thomas Merton once prayed to God, “Oh how far I have to go to come to rest in you, in whom I’ve already arrived. I only wish it were over. I only wish it were begun.”
Resist your temptation to lie
By speaking of separation from God
We might have to medicate
In the ocean
A lot goes on beneath your eyes
They have clinics there too
For the insane
Who persist in saying things like:
"I am independent from the
God is not always around
- Hafiz (tr. Daniel Ladinsky)
O guiding light!
O night lovelier than the dawn!
O night that has united the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.
- John of the Cross
As we excitedly begin springtime preparations for the holy embodied work of growing food, I have also been holding in my heart the ancient relationship between Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In light of last week’s white nationalist terrorist attack in New Zealand and in light of developing news in Syria, and recent excruciating violence in Gaza, I have been allowing myself to go through the roller coaster of emotions that come up, and letting them be what they are before I let them go. First as a mother, because children are dying at the hands of extremism, then as a Christian, and then beyond my emotional tendencies, as someone drawn to the teachers from these traditions who graced this world with a unifying vision.
Fundamentalism loves the front page, and it would seem, most of us do too. Or as I heard Scilla Ellworthy say on the podcast Cracks of Light, “if it bleeds, it leads”.
Not that we should be silent in the face of ideological violence, but there are also remarkable stories taking place everyday where folks from these traditions share space, share heritage and even share monuments and saints, but we’re addicted to the drama of extremes, so we often fail to broadcast the beautiful connections.
Last week in my reflection on Christchurch, New Zealand, I was clear that it is important to name white nationalism and islamophobia and the roots of Christian fundamentalism in the West. This week, I want to highlight some of the shared beauty of Islam and Christianity. So I am including two films, and a song from my album Behold, I Make All Things New, called Every Breath is Yours, that was written by Michael Scott, of the Waterboys.
The films are each in their own way, utterly remarkable. In Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, when they’re standing by the cave of St Anthony, I could feel the history there through the screen. And in the film Sufi Soul - the music of Islam, the music consoles and ignites and connects. To see the Eastern Orthodox Christian convent of Saidnaya, as a shared pilgrimage point for both Muslims and Christians, with the Mary icon, named Shaguoura, as a shared saint, is profound to witness. (This convent has since suffered damage from the Syrian civil war, as have so many UNESCO sites dating back to the 2nd century BC.)
Let's get back to connections. The medieval Christian mystic poets had the rich, highly developed Islamic poets to thank for inspiring romantic, erotic metaphor, in relation to spiritual love with God. And the early European troubadours/bards were inspired by the various themes of Arabic poetry, including satire, eulogies, lampoon/insult poems, war poetry, hunting poetry, and so on.
John of the Cross’s famous metaphors of eros love in God, may have never been, had it not been for this kind of metaphor developing first in Islamic poetry. The poetry of being utterly, willingly overtaken by God in body and soul. The Canticle of Canticles, or Song of Songs may have influenced both, but there was something remarkable happening in those years between the 12th and 17th century that were often overlooked by "enlightenment era" eyes. The Hindu poet Mirabai penned her love songs within this time period too. But my favourite is Rabia al-Basri, who preceded both Rumi and Hafiz by 700 years, and who also went into the desert in her homeland Iraq, to become an ascetic, around the time Sufis were populating the Syrian desert after the Muslim Conquest of Levant. Remember, Syria had been under Roman rule for 7 centuries, before this conquest, so there is so much more going on than one religion vs another.
Likewise, in the film Sufi Soul, they show how the repetition of the Jesus Prayer chanted in the Syrian desert by the early desert Abbas and Ammas, inspired Sufi music and in part, the channel held open through embodied repetition of the Whirling Dervish. And when it comes to the roots of chanting itself, all indigenous traditions have some form of it, and chanting the Psalms, especially the Hallel, would have been a custom practiced by Jesus. It is thought by some, that he chanted the Psalms from the cross. But this particular repetition found in the Syrian desert, was developed by the Christians who fled the corruption of civilization and sought to find a prayer practice that could aid them to "will the one thing".
So, we know that Christianity and Islam have a shared history of the crusades and that the ramifications of this reverberate in very painful ways today. We all know about that. But what about these lesser known details about what we have shared, and the alchemical richness we have developed together?
In 2015, when I recorded the song Every Breath is Yours, I stood in front of the microphone in the tradition of the Islamic and Christian mystic poets, along with the author of the Song of Songs, whose fearless intimate metaphors, brought God closer to us.
Closer than we are to ourselves.
When we are at a loss for what to do about fundamentalism, may we move to the connections, the shared metaphors and elements - Silence. Music. Art. Poetry. Story. Movement. Taste. Chant. Love. Fire. Water. Earth. Wind. This is where we have our kinship in and through our shared Creator.
PS- additionally, I sort of assumed most of you reading this would have an understanding of the Abrahamic connection all three traditions share, but someone shared a wonderful, far more scholarly but very heartfelt lecture by professor Robert Baum speaking on Children of Abraham: The Shared Traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Click here to watch that lecture!
In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
the one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?
- 8th century Muslim poet Rabia al-Basri
Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.
We are connected now, not just by the invisible lines of the energy at the heart of all things. This "heart of all things" connection has always been, even as groups encountered each other, clashed, made war or peace, and lived in their place and time which shaped their cultural and spiritual expressions. Today, we are now connected by the internet, and the global summit of the world of ideas, and… ideologies… is available to anyone who is able to log in.
On March 15th, 2019, the very same day that 15-year-old Greta Thunberg led a worldwide skip school protest for climate justice, a 28-year-old man chose to enact a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, claiming his actions were anti-immigration in intent.
I have never had the honour of visiting New Zealand, but I have had the honour of knowing a number of folks from New Zealand, and I have always felt there is an innocence and beauty carried in the culture, that is palpable in the presence of the people I have known.
Today, as I held my youngest, who is nearing his 3rd birthday, I longed for little 3-year-old Mucad Ibrahim to be okay. To be safe and with his family. My heart stretched all the way to the families in Christchurch, grieving and in shock, and then, to the Ummah around the world.
Words are powerful. The energy behind our words are powerful. It is clear that a grassroots movement for the things that make this world beautiful is growing. But it is also clear that an alt-right neo white supremacy movement is growing. And I’m going to be clear about something: the degree to which we can suffer and mourn with our Muslim brothers and sisters about this massacre, is the exact degree to which we have faced the brunt of our own addiction to overconsumption, fundamentalism, power, and white privilege. Now is not the time to say “what about” anything. As Saint Francis wrote, "O Master, let me not seek as much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love." We must put the parable of the Good Samaritan to work now more than ever ... to see the highest and the good in the "other", and to look at our own corruption. Let's not kid ourselves... and as Christians, let's call it out... this white nationalist terrorism rearing its hideous head has its roots in slaveholder Christianity, and in an Islamophobia forged in great part by Christian fundamentalism.
The song I want to share today, Heart and Heart, comes from the new Meditation With Children album (to be released April 27th, 2019). There is a beautiful line I worked with, from a poem called Reality, by one of my favourite poets, the 8th Century Sufi mystic Rabia al-Basri.
The line I used from her poem is:
In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
This line brings us back to the heart of all things, that I mentioned at the beginning of this reflection.
But here’s the tricky bit. Unitive or nondual consciousness is not uniformity. It is not homogeneous. We don’t get to skip innocently over this line of Rabia al-Basri’s, this week of all weeks, and begin to feel good about how we’re all connected and how there’s no separation between us and God and the world. While that is true, we are also in the physical realm and we walk around in the skin we’re in.
We must plant Rabia’s line in the most diverse, symbiotic garden you could ever dream of.
As the global summit of online ideologies continues to embolden entitlement, there is a Oneness that is not superficial, that is not cheaply relativistic, and it is in-building an awareness and a love here in our corporeal state, for far-off places and people who are different from ourselves. As more and more awaken to inborn delusions of entitlement and the lie of exceptionalism... that diverse garden has a chance to grow into a beautiful, cacophonous, balance.
PS- Lastly, there is a petition speaking out against the white nationalism behind this shooting, and it is being organized to gather names and messages that will be bound into books and delivered to the families effected by the massacres in Christchurch.
To sign the petition and send your message, click here.
PPS- And men... all of you... go and get initiated through either the Mankind Project or Illuman and then start a men's group in your area when you get home. Love needs all hands on deck, so if it is your tendency to sleep your way through these violent events caused by angry young men, arise and be counted, Elders. The world needs you.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on an aspiring permaculture farm on the Canadian prairies.